Staunton, May 21 – Today marks the 156th anniversary of the expulsion of most Circassians from the North Caucasus after they had resisted the forces of the Russian Empire for 101 years, completing an act of genocide that resulted in deaths or expulsion of more than three million of them, something that even now Moscow refuses to acknowledge or address.
Because this year’s memorial day is not what the Russians call a “round” one – that is having a date divisible by five, ten or 100 years – and because the pandemic has meant that almost all the activities Circassians engaged in have been online rather than as in many past years, the streets, it has attracted less attention than some past years.
But ignoring this year’s anniversary is wrong for three reasons. First, precisely because 90 percent of Circassians live beyond the current borders of the Russian Federation and because Circassians within them remain officially divided, the Internet this year was able to play a greater role than on any previous memorial day.
Second, and arising from this, Circassians as Circassians are more united than at any point since the Russian genocide more than 150 years ago. The Internet has allowed them to overcome existing nation-state borders and the divisions the Soviets imposed and the Russian state continues to insist upon.
And third, this unity has not been not limited to the affirmation of a common identity but includes an increasingly common agenda, including but not limited to the return of Circassians to the homeland especially from war-torn countries in the Middle East and demands for greater and more honest discussions of crime visited upon that nation.
If the mass media have devoted less attention to the Circassians than they did in the run-up to the 150th anniversary of the genocide which coincided with Putin’s Olympics on the very site where Circassians were killed and expelled, scholars and analysts both Circassian and not published more studies than ever before.
And thanks to Circassian activists who created a virtual world for the Circassians everywhere to turn to, this research and writing is reaching far more people. They in turn have become more active both via the Internet and person to person, helping Circassians return to the homeland and promoting Circassian identity in the upcoming Russian census.
But the best evidence for their growing unity and strength has been Moscow’s reaction which has lashed out at those who write up Circassians issues, most prominently declaring the US-based Jamestown Foundation an unfriendly source because of its articles on Circassians, and also has worked against those who try to return or e-identify.
In reporting this year’s anniversary, Circassian Naima Neflyasheva in her North Caucasus Through the Centuries blog cites the words of Madina Khakuasheva, a brilliant Circassian novelist and scholar, from the latter’s book On the Road Home (kavkaz-uzel.eu/blogs/1927/posts/43347).
In it, she appeals to the Most High, asking him to “preserve the wings of the people so that they will be able to fly!” This year’s memorial day shows that the Circassians have their wings and are flexing their muscles and that the day is coming ever closer when they will again live in a Greater Circassia, proud and free.